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Projections and Reflections on Chicano Theatre


Tony: Organizations that have had stability in their facilities and own property have been successful in achieving long-term sustainability.

So why did you do theatre?

Claudia: My parents grew up really poor and without access to arts. My mom, in particular, wasn’t allowed to do anything. It was like, “You’re going to be a wife and a mother.” And when she had me and my sister, they basically just signed us up for everything possible because they were like, “Let’s give them the opportunities that we didn’t have.”

In high school, I was like, “I know I want to go into civic leadership, or leadership, or the arts.” I decided to study acting at a BFA program. I finally said, “This is what I’m doing.” I joke with my dad, who is a minister in Houston, that we essentially have the same job. He tells his stories and brings people together in a ritualistic setting to be inspired. We’re doing the same thing, and it serves the same purpose in our community.

Tony: I found a parallel in your story about the minister. I grew up Catholic. I remember sitting in the Mass thinking, “This would be so much better if the priest moved over here and music came in here.” And I didn’t realize it until later that I wanted to direct the Mass.

I became interested in theatre when I saw El Teatro Campesino perform. I was 19. La Carpa de Los Rasquachis one of the best works of theatre I’ve ever seen. The play began with the crucifixion and Christ speaking in Mayan. Luis Valdez at his metaphysical best. I thought, “Wow, they are mixing myth, metaphor, and spirituality all together and the play just started.” Everything that you’re talking about that you saw in the church was on that stage, and it was our people doing it.

We didn’t intend to upend the entire system, but we ended up producing a lot of artists who continued building that movement.

Claudia: I can only imagine what it was like coming from the Chicano theatre movement and being among all those people who connected theatre to activism.

The first time I ever saw that plays were even written by Latine people was in high school in our library. I was looking for monologues in the play section, and I saw Josefina Lopez’s name on the spine. I pulled it out. It was Real Women. I was just like, “What? Nobody told me this was a thing, that my people created plays too.” It was still years before I saw a show that was Chicano or Latine.

Tony: About twenty-something years ago, I wrote a piece called Papi, Me, and Cesar Chávez. I got the idea to do it because I was talking to some kids and they knew who Julio Cesar Chávez was, but they didn’t know who Cesar was.

Su Teatro performed in the streets because we weren’t allowed in the theatres. Our artists created murals on the walls because we weren’t allowed in the museums.

We went to the TENAZ Festival in 1974, in Mexico City. Weirdly enough, we opened for El Teatro Campesino. In 1975, El Teatro Campesino came to Denver on tour, and they stayed with us. For two weeks we got this intensive Teatro experience. It reinforced what we were doing. One night, I’m sitting in the back of the theatre watching La Carpa. People in the audience are crying, and I’m watching all the tough pachucos wiping their eyes. I was like, “Shit, that’s a lot of power to make these guys cry.”

We didn’t intend to upend the entire system, but we ended up producing a lot of artists who continued building that movement. Cesar Chávez says that it doesn’t matter how you came to the movement, all that matters is that you did. Everyone’s route to get there is different, but it doesn’t matter. And Corky Gonzales says, “Once you reach consciousness, you can never go backwards.”

And at some point, I realized that I wasn’t happy doing anything else besides teatro. I wanted to be in the movement. I wanted to make social change.

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